Dulaney student, 16, plans solo cross-country flight

June 28, 1994|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun Staff Writer

Like many of his high school friends, 16-year-old Jimmy Mathis is taking some time this summer to study a little geography.

However, his education won't be in the classroom -- it'll be 3,000 feet in the air.

Jimmy, who just finished his sophomore year at Dulaney High School, wants to become the youngest pilot to fly solo across the United States when he takes off from Ocean City tomorrow morning for Long Beach, Calif.

"I'm not really scared," he said. "I'm a little nervous, but that's all."

It is believed that Jimmy would be the youngest person to accomplish such a feat. Several aeronautical agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration, said they were unaware of any successful attempts by anyone younger. Younger pilots have flown across the country before but were accompanied by licensed pilots.

FAA guidelines prohibit anyone under age 16 from flying a plane without a licensed companion.

In March, Rachel Carter, 9, became the youngest pilot to fly from San Diego to New York. She was accompanied by her co-pilot father.

It will take Jimmy, of Glen Arm, about 10 days to complete the 3,000-mile trip in a 160-horsepower Cessna 172, the Spirit of Toyota. Averaging about 110 knots (roughly 130 mph), he will fly about 300 miles each day in four to five hours.

Yesterday, Jimmy had the plane at Martin State Airport in Middle River, where he reviewed flight plans with instructors Dave Moeslein and Harry Kraemer.

Jimmy has a student pilot's license, which restricts him from flying under certain circumstances. For instance, he cannot fly when winds exceed 22 knots.

To get from point to point, Jimmy will depend on ground-level checkpoints and VOR, or VHF Omni Range. By sending electronic signals to airports, VOR will guide Jimmy on the proper flight path.

Jimmy, whose father Jim is a private pilot, said yesterday that he took his first flying lessons when he turned 15.

Mr. Moeslein, one of three Ramair Flight Training Center instructors who work with Jimmy, said the idea for the cross-country flight came about after he and Mr. Kraemer heard about Vicki Van Meter, 11, who flew from Augusta, Maine, to San Diego last year with her flight instructor.

"But if you've got someone sitting next to you, you always have that feeling that you have someone to fall back on, someone who can help you look at the map or something," Mr. Moeslein said.

"We thought, 'You know, that'd be a real accomplishment if a student solo pilot did it.' "

The instructors proposed the idea in November. Mr. Moeslein said they chose Jimmy because he was one of their younger trainees and because his father's background as a private pilot "made the sales pitch . . . easier."

Jimmy quickly accepted the challenge but then had to convince his parents that the dangers would be minimal. He underwent numerous simulation tests to learn how to react to hazards he might face.

He also had 15 hours of night and mountain flying in Winchester, Va.

Mary Lou Mathis, Jimmy's mother, said yesterday that she is nervous about the trip but that she feels she could not deny her son his wish.

"I don't want to hold him back," she said. "But at the same time, I'm a nervous wreck."

Central Atlantic Toyota Dealers agreed to finance the trip after Jim Mathis, who works for a Timonium advertising agency, approached Toyota officials.

Toyota provided money to rent the 26-foot Cessna from Winchester Professional Pilots, a pilot-training operation in Virginia.

The only stipulations were that Toyota be the only sponsor and that his final destination be at Toyota AirFlite, a facility that provides services at Long Beach International Airport.

Jimmy's age alone makes the attempt "spectacular," Mr. Kraemer said, but there is something else that can be gained.

"We want to show that with proper instruction, anything is possible," he said.


Day 1: Ocean City to Batavia, Ohio.

Day 2: To St. Louis.

Day 3: To Wichita, Kan.

Day 4: To Plainview, Texas.

Day 5: To Las Cruces, N.M.

Day 6: To Chandler, Ariz.

Days 7, 8 and 9: Mountain flight training in Chandler.

Day 10: To Long Beach, Calif.

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